Botelho SC, Tatsuta T, von Heijne G, Kim H
J. Biol. Chem. 288 (7) 4792-4798 [2013-02-15; online 2013-01-02]
Sorting of mitochondrial inner membrane proteins is a complex process in which translocons and proteases function in a concerted way. Many inner membrane proteins insert into the membrane via the TIM23 translocon, and some are then further acted upon by the mitochondrial m-AAA protease, a molecular motor capable of dislocating proteins from the inner membrane. This raises the possibility that the threshold hydrophobicity for the retention of transmembrane segments in the inner membrane is different depending on whether they belong to membrane proteins that are m-AAA protease substrates or not. Here, using model transmembrane segments engineered into m-AAA protease-dependent proteins, we show that the threshold hydrophobicity for membrane retention measured in yeast cells in the absence of a functional m-AAA protease is markedly lower than that measured in its presence. Whether a given hydrophobic segment in a mitochondrial inner membrane protein will ultimately form a transmembrane helix may therefore depend on whether or not it will be exposed to the pulling force exerted by the m-AAA protease during biogenesis.